Riley Gaines speaks out after two trans runners fail to appear at California high school race amid controversy

Former college swimmer Riley Gaines called out a pair of transgender athletes who qualified for the California high school preliminary finals race but ultimately chose not to attend the event.

During her time at the University of Kentucky, Gaines swam competitively against Lia Thomas. After winning the 2022 Division I women's national championship, Thomas quickly became a focal point of the debate over who should compete in women's sports.

Thomas was a member of the University of Pennsylvania's men's swimming team for three seasons before switching over to the women's team after a gap year when the Ivy League canceled the 2020-21 sports season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since then, Gaines has been outspoken about her position on competition in women's sports. On Friday, she took to twitter and questioned whether the high school runners discovered had that they “clearly possess an unfair advantage.”


SEC champion swimmer Riley Gaines speaks during the general session at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas, Texas. (August 6, 2022. REUTERS/Go Nakamura)

Gaines, 12-time NCAA All-American swimmer, has consistently argued that transgender athletes' participation in school sports will discourage others from competing.

Athena Ryan finished in second-place in last week's 1,600m race in California. Ryan, who was born male and transitioned to female, competed on the boys team until 2021.


Runner Adeline Johnson competed in the same race as Ryan and finished in fourth-place. Finishing outside the top three positions meant that the 18-year-old Johnson would not qualify for the state finals. During the post-race podium presentation, Johnson was seen giving a thumbs-down gesture. 

A second transgender athlete, Lorelei Barrett, also qualified for the state finals.  Ryan and Barrett were both no-shows for the preliminary finals race.

lia thomas riley gaines ncaa swimming championship

University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas and Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines tied for 5th in the 200 Freestyle finals at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships on March 18th, 2022, at the McAuley Aquatic Center in Atlanta Georgia.  (Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“Both boys (Athena Ryan and Lorelei Barrett) who qualified for the girls high school track and field state championship in California did not compete in prelims today.

“Did they realize they clearly possess an unfair advantage? Or is that too optimistic?” Gaines wrote in a tweet.

Ryan went from a sixth place finished in a 1,600-meter race to the runner-up position in the most recent competition in the high school girl's category.

Ryan became a lighting rod for controversy after boasting about the improved running times.

“I wasn't expecting that. I dropped like 17 seconds on my season's best in the past two weeks,” Ryan told MileSplit after the race. “After last weekend, I didn't think I could run low 5s again. I was just coming here trying to break five – just glad I finished it out.”

Riley Gaines in front of Congress

Former NCAA swimmer Riley Gaines spoke to Congress on Tuesday about an incident on April 6, 2023, when she claims to have been held for ransom at San Francisco State University. (Homeland Security Subcommittee via YouTube)

Organized groups and protesters showed up to the track event to express their opposition. At least one of the protesters was eventually removed from the premises after they began yelling.

According to the California Interscholastic Federation's “Gender Identity Participation” policy, transgender students are permitted to compete in sports and activities that are “consistent with their gender identity.”

A student-athlete's eligibility only has to be awarded once, and it does not have to be renewed on an annual basis.

The California Interscholastic Federation is the governing body of high school athletics in the state. The CIF's Twitter bio states that the organization promotes “equity, quality, character and academic development.”


In March, World Athletics announced its decision to ban transgender athletes from competing in women's events at the international level. Meanwhile, the NCAA is set to soon introduce new rules, one of which would require transgender athletes to submit to routine testing.

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